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South Dakota and New Mexico offer a glimpse into the alternate realities of the American pandemic.

Known cases of the coronavirus in the United States have now passed 12 million, and the daily routines of large numbers of Americans are now shaped by their zip codes, governors, and beliefs about the virus. Are they wearing masks? Go to school in person or online? Go to the restaurant? Being exposed to the virus?

The pandemic and the country’s rambling response have taken the notion of two Americas to a new extreme. The contrasts are particularly visible in South Dakota and New Mexico, states that have two different economies: one wide open, the other locked.

In South Dakota, where a conservative border philosophy dominates, the economy has performed relatively well, with an unemployment rate of 3.6%, well below the national average of 6.9%. Some cities, stores, and school districts require masks or social distancing, but overall, the state has the fewest restrictions, with no mask mandate or meaningful limits for business.

But hospitalization rates have been the highest in the country, and more than 7% of the population has tested positive. The state has the second highest rate of new cases in the country.

Housekeeper Kristi Noem, a Republican, sees her approach as a sign of freedom, criticizing the restrictions as ineffective and economically destructive.

“You wouldn’t even know there is a pandemic going on,” said Heidi Haugan, mother of four young children in Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city.

New Mexico has fewer cases per capita, but a more alarming trend line. The daily number of cases has more than doubled in the past two weeks. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, on Monday subjected the state’s two million residents to some of the country’s toughest restrictions, issuing a two-week stay-at-home order, banning meals in restaurants, by setting capacity limits in grocery stores. and the closure of indoor shopping centers, cinemas and gymnasiums.

And the virus hit the economy. Unemployment in New Mexico has risen to 8% – about the same level as neighboring Republicans-led Arizona – and small business owners are expressing widespread fears about the shutdown.

In South Dakota and New Mexico, people are suffering in the same way – not only economic and health problems, but also divisions with family and friends over the virus and how to fight it.

Allison Byington, who lives in South Dakota, said her mother recently called her a murderer for refusing to wear a face mask. “We don’t have a relationship anymore,” Ms. Byington said.


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